Reviews /

Skandar and the Phantom Rider

Authored by A. F. Steadman
Published by Simon & Schuster Ltd

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I really enjoyed Skandar and the Phantom Rider, though I would recommend reading the first book in this series, Skandar and the Unicorn Thief first as it would explain more about the world that Skandar lives in, rather than to try and conjecture what had already happened.

The second book in this exciting fantasy series features fierce, bloodthirsty unicorns on a magical island while Skandar and his friends are in their second year at the Eyrie, the Island’s school. Weaver is Skandar’s estranged mother and now they suspect she’s behind the present terrors, with wild unicorns mysteriously turning up dead, something that is supposed to be impossible. At the same time a prophecy warns of terrible danger, and elemental destruction begins to ravage the Island, with students and unicorns being possessed and the Eyrie in danger of total destruction.

However, Skandar and his friends have to concentrate on this year’s training and preparing for the Joust tournament at the end of the year which they needed to pass if they didn’t want to be declared Nomad and kicked out of the Eyrie. They learn how to develop their elemental skills, apart from Skandar who is not allowed to use his spirit elemental power. Unicorns have magical abilities based on different elements like wind, fire, water, earth, and spirit. Spirit magic has been deemed illegal, so Skandar and his unicorn are judged, excluded, and blamed for things because of their use of it. A true song that spells doom and destruction for the Eyrie and everyone on the island implicates Skandar and he finds himself ostracized by most of the other students and even the instructors. Only his friends in his quartet stand by him, and even some of them seem to have doubts.

As another part of the plot, the Weaver has brought Kenna, Skandar’s sister, to the Island as part of her evil plan, a call that is two years late. She’s sceptical when Dorian Manning, head of the Silver Circle and hater of all spirit magic wielders, offers to take her to the island in secret, but she knows she’s destined for a unicorn and takes the risk.

While the climactic action does feel a bit rushed, it’s a real team effort, save-the-island page-turner. And in the final few pages, the third book’s conflict emerges. However, there are some words of caution- I had always envisaged unicorns as quite gentle creatures, but the unicorns in this series are anything but! The main characters are now in their second year training with their bonded unicorns and learn to fashion and wield weapons for jousts that result in severe injuries. They also use those weapons in many skirmishes. The bonded unicorns are aggressive and bloodthirsty, eating meat (as well as sweets), and definitely have very interesting personalities. There are also mentions of wild unicorns that are rounded up and imprisoned who die fighting in arenas for others’ entertainment. These wild unicorns are essentially decaying whilst remaining immortal and there are some quite graphic descriptions of their gruesome appearance.

Shortlisted for the British Book Awards 2024 Children’s Fiction Category